John Hutton – 2004 Speech at the Nurse of the Year Awards


Below is the text of the speech made by John Hutton, the Minister of State for Health, on 2 November 2004.

It’s a tremendous honour to have been asked to present this year’s Nursing Standard Awards. I’m absolutely delighted to be here this evening.

For over 150 years, nursing has been a profession with high standards, a clear ethos and a strong sense of public service. It’s not surprising therefore that nurses are amongst the most respected of all of our caring professions. Respected just as much for the care you provide to the sick and to the injured as for your compassion and humanity, often in the face of personal tragedy and distress. There will be very few people in this room tonight, in our country, whose lives haven’t been touched by the comfort and reassurance that nurses provide, every hour of the day, every day of the year.

It is an extraordinary job that you do.

And the role of nursing is central to the delivery of high quality care to patients. So our national health service must always look to strengthen this role and help make nursing an attractive and rewarding career. As part of this process we need to highlight the achievement and contribution that nurses make to the work of the NHS and to work with the profession in planning for the future – for what lies ahead of the profession. Because it’s the future of nursing as a profession, not what might have happened to it in the past, that is probably at the forefront of all of our minds this evening.

And I do believe that the future for the profession is a hugely bright one. Of course we haven’t solved every problem. There are still too few nurses working in the NHS and the pressure this generates is experienced every day by nurses and patients up and down the country – we all know this. And we do need to do more to break through the artificial demarcations that still limit the contributions that nurses can make. In our hospitals and in primary care too. I accept that.

But neither is it true that no progress has been made in any of these areas. There are more nurses than ever before working in the NHS – both full time and part time and we are able to do more in ensuring access to decent childcare support.

We are succeeding in attracting more of those who have left the profession to come back to nursing.

There are more nurses in training than ever before.

We have hundreds of nurse consultants running their own clinics and treating their own patients. Not enough, but a good start.

Thousands of nurses are now able to prescribe drugs – a task which in the past, had always been the exclusive preserve of doctors.

And nurses are delivering care in over 50 NHS walk in Centres and in NHS Direct.

And in primary care, nurses are now employing doctors. We have come a very long way indeed. But there is more still to do.

But I believe, and I hope people in this room do too, that if we are going to lay the foundations for a successful future for the profession we have to get the basics right.

Agenda for Change, negotiated by all of the NHS trade unions and supported by the RCN is a huge step forward for nursing. No more artificial barriers to how far a nurse can progress. Nurse consultants earning the equivalent of senior doctors. Parity between nurses and teachers in terms of career salaries. And a proper acceptance that if a nurse takes on new roles and responsibilities then he or she will be properly rewarded for doing so. We will continue to work closely with the RCN on making Agenda for Change the beginning of a new deal for nurses. For Agenda for Change to succeed partnership at every level is going to be essential. The RCN had asked for more resources to help meet the backfill costs of staff representatives who are helping to implement Agenda for Change. Last month, I was pleased to do just that – an extra £30 million to help Trusts meet these additional costs. So I am grateful to the RCN for the leadership it is showing.

But it’s not just nurses who will benefit from these reforms. Patients will benefit too. Agenda for Change will help us recruit more nurses into the profession. It will help us to retain them for longer as well, and so improving the continuity of care to patients. Helping the NHS to become the service we all want it to be.

We need to do more I accept to reduce the drop out rate from nurse training courses and also to improve the career prospects for nurse educators in college. Attrition rates of 15% are simply not good enough. We need to reward those colleges that do more to keep attrition rates as low as possible. And we need to look carefully at whether we are providing the right financial support to student nurses because ensuring that nursing remains a popular career choice for young people is absolutely essential for the future success of the profession as a whole.

In all of these areas we want to work constructively with the profession. We want to make more progress in all of those areas where we know there is still more work to be done. And we would like to do this, as I said, in a partnership with nurses themselves so that the advances we are able to make are sustainable and that we focus on the right priorities. And we will always listen with respect to the profession because no one understands better than nurses themselves what isn’t right and what isn’t working.

So you can help us to get it right.

But tonight we are also focusing on what we know is already right about nursing.

We are here to celebrate the achievements of some truly outstanding nurses. Nurses from all over the country whose professionalism and service to others has been rightly identified as being of the highest possible professional standard.

You have done an absolutely brilliant job. I want to congratulate each of you for winning these very special awards tonight. The decision to make these awards has been made by other nurses. I don’t think there can be any higher praise than that.

We can now move on to the award ceremony itself. Thank you for listening. And thank you once again for everything you do for the NHS and its patients.